The United States, among many other regions of the world, is currently witnessing the effects of late-stage capitalism, one of which is in the form of increasingly unstable labor relations. The Great Resignation and quiet quitting are some of the familiar integral progressions of this conflict as workers stand up against the exploitative nature of work culture. The system is designed to keep Americans unjustifiably in shackles by ensuring that they live paycheck to paycheck, and the percentages leave little room for disproof.
A recent report by CNBC showed that 61% of Americans, of which 22% earn more than $100,000, are in danger of being completely impoverished. This sheer number alone is indicative that this phenomenon is a systemic issue—or rather, a feature—especially given that two-thirds of Americans are getting by with only 14.3% of all wealth in the U.S. This is only made worse by the massive devaluation of labor, the lack of dignity in treating workers, absurd expenses and suppression of opposition that keep Americans from realizing that something is not right.
The concept of working hard has lost tangible meaning; employees spend more than half of their waking days endlessly toiling for companies that treat them as replaceable assets rather than human beings. It doesn’t help that employers manufacture work cultures to keep employees under the delusion that their co-workers and bosses are “family” in an attempt to garner some form of loyalty to the company. This is done only to be betrayed as soon as their usefulness ends or when profits start plummeting and they are immediately laid off.
Employees are frequently expected to wear themselves out physically and mentally for the sake of the corporation, but don’t receive adequate appreciation, compensation or both. Amazon is one of the many companies infamous for expecting this type of worker dedication while doing nothing to provide safer environments, better working conditions or anything that increases and maintains their employees’ capacity to work.
In addition to unfavorable working conditions and inadequate compensations, workers are burdened with multiple monthly payments that consume most of their paychecks, some of which include rent, car payments and medical insurance. California’s average rent pricing alone can take 54% off monthly gross income of $20 per hour for 40 hours a week.
The most effective way of combating toxic labor relations is through unions. There have been successful attempts to unionize since the Industrial Revolution, which is why the ten-hour workday became eight-hours. Unsurprisingly, unions are the bane of companies, as they threaten not only the companies’ control over their own production, but more so their profit. This led to aggressive anti-union actions, such as the Ludlow Massacre, along with racist or sexist tactics.
Though worker exploitation still runs rampant, there has been some progress in the fight to organize. Christian Smalls was able to help Amazon warehouse JFK8 vote in favor of unions despite the company’s attempts to stop it and Starbucks stores voted to unionize en masse, with two hundred stores organized by July 2022, which was also met with anti-union actions beforehand. Even UCR recently had to answer calls for unionization. They expressed that student labor is undervalued and that compensation shouldn’t completely account for basic necessities.
This is not the innovation capitalism should breed. A prerequisite for innovation is that it has a societal benefit and there is nothing remotely innovative in a system that profits off of worker exploitation. Employers should be worried about the consequences of losing entire workforces, especially due to constant devaluation of their labor. There is no need to make citizens toil—or beg — for food, shelter and utility in the U.S.